It is possible to know everyone you intend to recruit five years in advance. Not only is it possible, it’s the most strategic form of recruiting. By clearly articulating your requirements, you can transform Human Capital Acquisition from a reactive game into a proactive offensive strategy.
The problem with the term “Human Capital” is that it perpetuates the notion that human beings are interchangeable anonymous widgets. People who are treated as if they were capital, start to behave like capital. They move to the source of the highest return as quickly as possible without regard to loyalty.
Most recruiting happens in response to a variety of ”surprises”: Attrition higher than the forecast; the unanticipated departure of a key contributor; unanticipated success in a new market; failure to adjust to changing conditions; the final release of “new” requisitions. Although the precise details of any given hiring requirement can never be perfectly predicted, they can be anticipated with a high degree of accuracy. What is often called “Strategic Recruiting” is really just a common sense approach to things that can be known about an organization.
Reactive processes are compounded by tools that work against effective recruiting. Applicant Tracking Systems, by and large, create overwhelming pools of data that inhibit clear decision making. They provide solid legal defenses and organizational buffers to cope with large volumes of data. They very specifically do not improve recruiting results.
The goal of workforce planning is to adequately predict the hiring, training and retention requirements of an organization.
Workforce planning can seem so complicated that it never gets done. Visionary systems suggest that a combination of scenario planning and deep skills assessment can lead to a decision-making framework. I favor the back of the envelope school of thinking. That is, some level of planning is far superior to none at all.
When you have a department (or company) focused on the accomplishment of a single, repetitive task (even if it varies in the way that customer support tends to) there are sound, repeatable tools for workforce sizing that can and should be broadly applied. The techniques are so easy and powerful that precision can be measured in fractional percentage points of accuracy. A spreadsheet, attrition rates, forecast growth curves and a few variables will turn out excellent products in these cases.
In more sophisticated settings, organizational dynamics and political issues complicate the problem. Ultimately, good workforce planning is an iterative (and ongoing) process. Bottoms-up estimating will always be modified by top-down concerns. Workforce Planning is, after all, a planning conversation. Learning to engage the organization in the give and take of planning is at the heart of successful implementation.
John Sumser is the founder, principal author and editor-in-chief of the HRExaminer Online Magazine. John explores the people, technology, ideas and careers of senior leaders in Human Resources and Human Capital. John is the also principal of Two Color Hat where he routinely advises Human Resources, Recruiting Departments and Talent Management teams with product analysis, market segmentation, positioning, strategy and branding guidance.